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The Role of Competencies in the OPM Hiring Process: Supporting Mission Outcomes.

The federal government is migrating to a competency-based approach to hiring, which means that competencies must be included in job announcements (JOA) and used in JOA assessment questionnaires. Competencies will be used in the hiring process instead of knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs). A potential game-changer, this change may positively and profoundly impact the Department of Defense's (DoD) hiring process.

The migration to a competency-based hiring approach presents an opportunity for hiring managers to consistently receive candidates who match the requirements of a position, which can equate to higher retention rates and improved overall mission outcomes. The requirement to use competencies in the hiring process will apply to all federal agencies and becomes effective in DoD as components migrate to the USA Staffing upgrade, the Office of Personnel Management's (OPM) hiring software solution for federal agencies. By 2018, all DoD components will have migrated to the upgraded software. During this time, OPM is also scheduled to discontinue the USA Staffing legacy system. If hiring managers and human resource (HR) specialists are not aware of the USA Staffing upgrade, now is a prime opportunity to become informed about the upgrade. Some components are already using competencies in the hiring process; however, use throughout DoD is not consistent.

The Big Picture

In the 2016-2021 FM Strategic Workforce Plan appendix, the financial management (FM) Office of Secretary of Defense functional community manager (OFCM) included a strategy to use competency-based assessments in the hiring process. The goal is for the FM community to increase manager satisfaction with applicant referrals. The FM OFCM identified this as a problem because the USA Staffing self-assessment questionnaires potentially result in applicants artificially inflating their skill levels to ensure they are on the referral list. The result is that some managers believe some applicants on the referral list are unqualified for the position. The USA Staffing upgrade of using a competency-based approach to hiring could potentially eliminate this problem.

The Starting Point for Hiring Managers and HR Specialists: Competency Development

The good news is that the DoD FM community already has approved, prescribed competencies for the FM workforce, consisting of 24 competencies, including definitions, with five proficiency levels for each competency, referred to as competency models. The DoD Instruction 1400.25, Volume 250, titled DoD Civilian Personnel Management System: Civilian Strategic Human Capital Planning (updated in 2016), defines "competency" as an observable, measurable pattern of knowledge, abilities, skills, or other characteristics that individuals need to perform work roles or occupational functions successfully. OPM states that competencies specify the "how" of performing job tasks, essentially what a person needs to do a job successfully. Competencies are used to identify what needs to be included in training and development programs, are important for employee selection and assessment, and are used in the workforce planning process. A proficiency level indicates different degrees of expertise or mastery in a particular competency. For these reasons, the DoD FM competencies are the foundation of the FM workforce development portfolio, which includes the DoD FM Certification Program and the DoD FM career roadmaps.

The competency revalidation process included expertise from across the Department. The rigorous, thorough, and comprehensive DoD FM competency development process started in 2010, and the DoD FM competencies were published via a memorandum signed by the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) (USD(C)) in 2011. The DoD FM competencies were revalidated via a memorandum signed by the USD(C) in 2016. The Department-wide revalidation process spanned about 11 months and involved subject matter expert (SME) panels from across DoD. The rigorous process, covering each of the FM occupational series, was conducted using rules and policies established by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel & Readiness). For an FM SME to participate on a revalidation panel, they were required to meet pre-established minimum experience and functional expertise requirements. If a DoD component had at least 2% of a given population for an occupational series, the DoD component was allowed to vote during the competency revalidation SME panels as to what to include in the competency definitions, the development of new competencies, the proficiency levels, and associated job tasks. SMEs also developed job tasks for each of the 12 FM occupational series, which means that each FM competency has a comprehensive job task list. The job tasks are written in simple language, include an action verb, and are behaviorally-based. Because competencies are measurable and action oriented, it is important that the associated tasks also be actionable. SMEs were asked to identify the competency(ies) that an employee would need to perform a given task for an FM occupational series. For example, they were asked: What competency(ies) is required for this task? They were then asked to identify the competency needed to perform every identified task. Over the 11-month period, SME panels identified the competency required for every FM occupational series. The process concluded with competency approvals by DoD FM component functional community managers (CFCMs) and the DoD FM OFCM, with final approval by the USD(C).

The Connection Between Competencies and Job Tasks: Job Items

The next step in the process was to develop job items for the job tasks. Simply put, a job item is a derivative of a job task and is specific and actionable. It is used to determine to what extent an applicant possesses an identified competency or competencies. For components that have migrated to the USA Staffing upgrade, job items are the source for creating the self-assessment questionnaire used in the USA Staffing job application process. They are linked to competencies, and provide hiring managers and HR specialists the ability to distinguish the best qualified candidate(s).

This is an example of a job task: Assess internal controls. If you convert this job task to a job item, it could read: Assesses internal controls to support reporting for the Statement of Assurance.

OPM has identified a formula for writing job items: Perform What? + to Whom or What? + to produce What? or Why? How?

A job item gets to the point of identifying what task a supervisor needs an employee to be able to perform and why an employee needs to perform a given task.

Following is an example of how to use a job item in a default self-assessment questionnaire response scale:

Assesses internal controls to support reporting for the Statement of Assurance.

A. I have not had education, training, or experience in performing this task.

B. I have had education, training, or experience in how to performing this task, but have not yet performed it on the job.

C. I have performed this task on the job. My work on the task was monitored closely by a supervisor or senior employee to ensure compliance with proper procedures.

D. I have performed this task as a regular part of a job. I have performed it independently and normally without review by a supervisor or senior employee.

E. I am considered an expert in performing this task. I have supervised performance of this task or am normally the person who is consulted by other workers to assist or train them in doing this task because of my expertise.

Please note that the best candidate selections will occur when the HR specialist uses job items and customized assessment questionnaires in conjunction with one another. That means the HR specialist, in collaboration with the hiring manager and the functional community, will have developed a bank of applicable job items and customized self-assessment questions for the self-assessment questionnaire. The investment of time will be well worth the outcome: a JOA that specifically identifies what is required for a given position, and an assessment process that matches requirements (competencies), so hiring managers and HR specialists can identify the most qualified candidate.

In 2016, the FM community created a bank of job items. The FM OFCM led an effort to write job items for each of the job task lists for all 12 FM occupational series, also referred to as a job item library. The DoD FM job item and job task lists for all 12 FM occupational series were shared with the FM CFCMs. The purpose of sharing this information was to eliminate the need to create job tasks and job items for the FM competencies. FM CFCMs should use the approved DoD FM competencies for workforce planning, hiring, and competency assessment. They have the flexibility to customize the FM job tasks and job items; however, the customization must be a traceable derivative of the original FM enterprise-wide tasks and/or job items. FM CFCMs also have the flexibility to create component-specific competencies and associated job tasks and job items. In early 2017, the FM OFCM provided training on the role of competencies in the hiring process to the 30 plus FM CFCMs from across DoD. OUSD(C) now offers training on an as requested basis. If you are part of the DoD FM community and think your organization needs training, please contact Dr. Pamela Clay at at OUSD(C) to discuss your organizational needs.

* Competencies specify the "how" of performing job tasks and are used to identify technical skills necessary for a position.

* Job tasks are activities an employee performs on a regular basis to carry out functions required to successfully accomplish a job.

* Job items are discrete measurable activities used to determine the extent an applicant possesses the desired competency. Job items also form the basis for creating the self-assessment questionnaire.

Advantages of using the DoD FM enterprise-wide job item library include:

* Promotion of common competency/job item language across the FM community,

* Minimization of inconsistency and redundancy of component job item libraries; thereby, reducing duplicative work effort across DoD,

* Maximized ease in creating customized job items,

* Links job items to competencies for efficient re-use of content,

* Assisting hiring managers to maintain consistent use of the tools provided within the FM community, and

* The opportunity to enhance hiring accuracy and consistent high hiring standards.

Ongoing Process: Engagement and Collaboration

The FM CFCMs have been asked to engage with their respective HR offices to make sure the approved DoD FM competencies are used in the hiring process. For this effort to be successful, it will require continuous engagement and collaboration between hiring managers, HR specialists, and the FM CFCMs/OUSD(C). Successful outcomes are possible, but it will take work, commitment, and flexibility from all stakeholders.

In Summary

Job items in combination with customized self-assessment questionnaires produce a customized referral list. If FM hiring managers, in coordination with their respective HR offices, invest in the upfront process of identifying job requirements (competencies) and customizing the self-questionnaires, they will be able to develop a job analysis that meets mission requirements. This will create a job announcement that accurately reflects job requirements. Because a bank of job tasks and job items are available for FM CFCM use, the ability to quickly develop targeted JOAs is significantly improved. All of these steps will increase the likelihood of hiring employees who possess the right competencies--the right measurable knowledge, skills, and abilities. For this process to work, it will require commitment and dedication from hiring managers, HR specialists, and FM CFCMs. It will take significant engagement and collaboration. It will be well worth the effort! The DoD FM community has used its approved FM competencies in training and certification of its existing workforce for several years. With the upgrade to USA Staffing, those same FM competencies are now used in the hiring process to recruit the most qualified candidates for future workforce needs, enabling hiring managers to ensure new employees best match the needs of the position and are well-suited to help the Department achieve improved overall mission outcomes.

Pamela J. Clay, EdD, DFMC3

Dr. Pamela Clay is a senior FM workforce development specialist in the Financial Workforce Management Division of the Human Capital and Resource Management Directorate, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller). She supports DoD FM human capital planning and workforce development initiatives. Dr. Clay has over 30 years of civilian service in FM, human capital, and workforce development and has held various positions in several agencies in the federal government, mostly within DoD. She is a graduate of the Federal Executive Institute. She is a certified teacher and facilitator and is a member of the ASMC Washington Chapter.
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Author:Clay, Pamela J.
Publication:Armed Forces Comptroller
Date:Jun 22, 2017
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